The Federal Government has watered down a national gambling strategy, according to members of the committee that developed it, some of whom are threatening to resign.
The government-appointed members have accused the Family Services Minister, Amanda Vanstone, of pandering to the gambling industry in the development of a draft
action plan to help problem gamblers.
They have accused industry representatives of delaying approval of the committee’s draft national harm minimisation strategy on problem gambling, which they said had already been agreed to.
Three members of the committee, the National Advisory Body on Togel Hari Ini Gambling, including prominent anti-gambling advocate the Rev Tim Costello, have threatened to quit.
They said welfare representatives had compromised as much as they could, but industry had been given an effective veto over the plan.
The Federal Government established the committee in April 2001 after the Productivity Commission report on gambling. The draft strategy would extend existing NSW harm minimisation measures and, if industry agreed, pressure the states, which have primary responsibility for gambling.
The draft plan includes a Federal Government commitment to work with the states towards:
A national cap on poker machine numbers;
Limits on advertising and access to cash, and uniform poker machine design;
Limits to light and sound
effects of machines;
Restricted reel spin speed and hourly loss rate;
$10 maximum bets;
A ban on note acceptors;
Restrictions on ATMs in gaming rooms; and
Community input into location and conditions of gambling venues.
Community and industry representatives approved the plan last month after more than a year’s work, but the approval process had stopped suddenly after industry lobbying, Mr Costello said.
National standards would force the states to act and help problem gamblers by restraining the worst excesses of the industry, he said.
The Howard Government had been committed to tackling the issue, but the responsible minister, Senator Vanstone, had failed to drive the issue and should be replaced, he said.
In a letter to Senator Vanstone, the three committee members, Mr Costello, Diane Gibson from Relationships Australia, and Chris Jones from Anglicare, Tasmania, say: “The Commonwealth has thrown away the high moral ground occupied by your Prime Minister and the Treasurer.”
The head of the Australian Gaming Council, Vikki Flannery, yesterday denied the committee had agreed to the strategy. She would not discuss the industry’s concerns with the plan, which she said was a confidential document.
It is Mr Costello’s second threat to quit the committee. In March he complained it was stacked with industry representatives after a counsellor started working with Jupiters Casino.
Senator Vanstone wrote to him last week saying she was “very keen” for the committee to finalise deliberations. “This will necessarily involve some compromise from both industry and non-industry members,” she said.
A spokeswoman said the Federal Government was “deeply concerned about the effect problem gambling is having on Australian communities”.
She denied Senator Vanstone was pandering to the industry. The Commonwealth gets no benefit from gambling, because revenue flows to the states, she said.